6 June 2021
We were pleased to welcome Churchwarden Alice Kapka as our preacher on 6 June. Alice is also a candidate in the Diocese’s Licensed Reader programme.
Texts for the Day:
Genesis 3:8-15, Psalm 130, 2 Cor. 4:13-5:1, Mark 3:20-35
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, My strength and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
What the devil is going on?
“He’s playing devil’s advocate.”
“Why, you little devil!”
“What the devil has gotten into you?”
“The devil is in the details.”
The devil is alive and active in our readings this morning. Jesus, the Christ, living in the world did encounter the devil during his earthly life. In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus is accused of doing the work of Beelzebul, which is a particularly diabolical accusation.
But let’s back up. Let’s look at what is going on in Genesis; in the beginning, where we have our first lesson today. In our Genesis reading we get to look at this character, the serpent, aka the devil, in action right after the Creation, so that we become familiar with whom and with what we are dealing as we enter into the story of salvation, which we call the Bible.
In the first chapter of Genesis, God, of course is very busy creating Everything. On Day 6, God is working hard at creating “living creatures of every kind,” including “creeping things” which would include serpents This is the same day that God created, in his own image, humankind, male and female.
In the following chapter of Genesis we have another account of the creation of humankind. God takes dust, forming man and breathing into him. Man is alive with the living breath of God. God reflects and decides man needs a companion, so God does the rib surgery, takes a rib from the man and forms a woman around the rib. I believe God could have just used some more dust, but I believe God liked the idea of these two having a very intimate connection. This second version is our reference point for our garden story. God has given man and woman everything necessary for life. Good. However, there is one catch: Stay away from that beautiful tree in the enter of the garden. Somehow that tree has become the focus of our story, because not only is the tree very beautiful with fruit that have “Do not eat” signs on its tempting edibles, but it has an astonishing seasoned salesman telling the garden residents: “Ignore the signs!” This is the serpent, aka the devil. “Don’t listen to God! He’s giving you fake news! He doesn’t want you to be as smart, powerful, cool and wonderful as he is!”
Goodness! Could it be that God and the devil are nuking it out through these two innocent people in the Garden? I will refer to God and Satan bargaining later.
And , if God made all the creeping things on earth—even serpents—how could this serpent be talking—back in the day when serpents talked?— the garden residents into doing something that God says: “Do Not!”? Well, I’m about as capable of explaining how something evil slipped in while God was busing making everything in a creation that was good—“And God said it was good!”—as I am in telling you how dark matter functions in the universe.
However, I have been around long enough to know from experience that evil does exist in God’s good and beautiful creation. And we do see in our stories today the serpent, the devil, Beelzebul, Satan doing evil.
In the Garden, the woman is convinced by the serpent to give the fruit a taste. Is it because the fruit is so tasty or is it because she could not bear alone the burden of doing the only thing she was not supposed to do that she passes the fruit on to her significant other? He is a good husband. He does as his wife wishes. He has a bite of the fruit.
God has given the man and the woman the ability to make decisions. Like these first parents of ours, we, too, have this possibility of choice in our actions—even if the choice is to go against God.
Now, I don’t want to get into this whole business of whodunnit first. Certainly it has been reported more than once, that of course the woman took the first bite because she was…fill in the blank. But for me to get into that part of the story may take some time and the Lutherans want to use this space this afternoon. Suffice it to day the tempter won; the woman took and ate as did the man. They disobeyed God, thus creating a separation from God. We have a fancy theological word for that: sin.
When God comes to visit his favorite creation in the garden, the first big change we notice is that the couple realize they are naked and they hide. Silly to think of hiding from God, but, after all, they are human. The loss of the perfect relationship between God and his human creation is marked by a sense of shame and guilt. This is reflected in the realization that they are naked. The concept of nakedness did not exist for Adam and Eve while their relationship with God was perfect. But now that sin exists, they find a need to cover up. The fig-leaf wardrobe is suddenly born.
In responding to God’s question of what had they been up to, she says: “The serpent made me do it.” He says: “She made me do it.” If serpents giggle, I’m sure this one was having a hard time keeping its insidious giggles to itself. Score another point for the serpent. Sins have a way of begetting more sins. Not only did our first parents go against God, now they are attempting to deny what they had done was their own responsibility, their own choice.
The sin of disobedience is marked by the physical separation from God: the couple is expelled from the garden. “Upon your belly you shall go and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” Hard words. But what creature goes on its belly in the dust if not the serpent? The couple who heeded the serpent’s bidding against God’s will share in the bitterness of the serpent’s existence.
My favorite image of the “Expulsion from the Garden of Adam and Eve” is by Masaccio. This is a fresco painted in the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence approximately 600 years ago. The grief on Eve’s face is heart-wrenching. And heart-wrenching it must have been to have to leave the perfect place in harmony with the perfect creator. Anguished faces, hands feebly attempting to hide their newly-revealed nakedness; (no fig leaves) the angel of expulsion overhead with the sword at the ready if they even consider trying to go back, all move us to feel the horror of what these two had done: they had sinned against God.
If God and Satan are in a contest for the faithfulness of Adam and Eve in the Garden, these two adversaries show up elsewhere in Scripture. In our Daily Morning Prayer readings this past week we have been reading passages from the Book of Job. Here also we see God and Satan in action. They make a deal between themselves to see if a man, who has been living a good life and a righteous life, can maintain his righteousness in spite of calamities and good-intentioned bad advice. I see parallels here with the introduction to sin in the story of Adam and Eve and the Serpent with the invitation to sin for Job. In both cases the main characters had a good life. In our first story Adam and Eve fall for the mind games the serpent is laying on them. Job gets adversity in every imaginable form. I believe Job stays true in spite of the many intellectual arguments to the contrary given him by his friends, and he has his own questions about God. God shows up in a wonderful dramatic way reminding Job what God is. Job is restored; whereas Adam and Eve are expelled. We don’t see Satan make an appearance in the Job store after Job is restored, but I think Satan’s success with our first parents mean it could enter lives and create havoc ever since those first days reported in Genesis. And, we do see Satan showing up elsewhere in the Bible.
We know Jesus had been tempted by Satan but did not sin. In our Gospel account today Jesus responds to the crowd saying: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” in response to the crowd that says his family is waiting for him. Jesus is very aware of our human interconnectedness. For him as for us, our first human interactions are typically with our family. Jesus points out that with God in the relationship: “Whoever does the will of God” is my brother, sister and mother. That is the relationship to be seeking and aiming for; and one in which we all do our best to keep the devil out of. And hopefully, with God’s blessings we can do that together.